Our health through Basic Income: A prize worth fighting for

By Roderick Benns

As a youth, Tommy Douglas was a championship boxer. His success in the ring is all the more remarkable considering that years earlier he had nearly lost his leg to amputation when an infection set in.

As his many biographers point out, a travelling surgeon agreed to operate for free, as long as his parents consented to allow his medical students to watch. After several operations, he not only walked again, he thrived as an amateur boxer and then built his reputation as someone who fought for the underdog in the political arena as well.

Douglas never forgot his childhood experience and resolved that no one should have to pay for necessary medical care. His efforts are now celebrated within Canada’s history, for not only did he establish Medicare, he also established democratic socialism within the country and its politics.

While universal public health care is now taken for granted in Canadian life, there’s a new policy kid in town that aims for the same kind of social policy immortality – a basic income guarantee. A basic income guarantee ensures everyone an income that is sufficient to meet their basic needs, regardless of work status. The type most talked about in Canada is a negative income tax model, where it would be universally available to everyone during periods of financial need.

With research clearly showing that being poor affects a person’s health more than lifestyle choices, having a regular assured income for anyone to access when needed would address what is clearly the most important social determinant of health of all – income and income distribution.

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